An interview by Martina Bednarikova
Creativity becomes more visible when adults try to be more attentive to the cognitive process of children than to the results they achieve in fields of doing and understanding. And that is why the best teachers are those who are curious, persistent, and independent, with a tremendous spirit of adventure and a love of play. Alexandra Chistyakova, ELT Forum 2014 presenter, proves that a child’s play is not simply a reproduction of what they have experienced, but a creative reworking of the impressions they have acquired. Therefore let them play!
Slovak Chamber of English Teachers (SCET): Alexandra, tell us about your own beginnings as a student of English. What helped you master English grammar? And what do you do in order to keep improving your English now as an English teacher?
Alexandra Chistyakova (AC): Well, my “beginnings as a student of English” wasn’t really interesting; in fact, it was rather long, dreary and inefficient. Frankly speaking, there wasn’t any language learning happening in my English classes neither at school nor at my first university. So, by the end of my fourth year of university, I was a mere false beginner of English with rather scanty knowledge of vocabulary and almost no grammar. Needless to say, I read in English with great difficulty and couldn’t speak English at all. However, that was the year when I realised that I was sick and tired of not knowing English and that I wanted to master English and to be able to communicate in it freely. This burning desire brought me to the faculty of foreign languages of Moscow State University. And it was only there that I actually started learning English. That’s why when I started really learning English, I was already a motivated young adult who was consciously learning the language and really enjoying the process. Thus, there was nothing about the English language that was too difficult for me to master, not even grammar, which, in fact, I found very easy and logical.
As for improving me English skills now, I should say that teaching it, surfing the Internet and reading in English helps me a lot. Also, I would like to emphasize the huge role my international connections with other educators from around the world play in developing and improving my English.
SCET: In your presentation you are going to talk about teaching English grammar to kids in a creative and engaging way. Can you tell us more about your younger students? Do you have any secret key that helps you capture their attention? Has your approach to them changed since you started teaching?
AC: Naturally, my teaching has changed over the years. Given the fact that I didn’t have any pedagogical training, I had to learn how to teach all by myself and by actual teaching. I think this helped me a lot to stay open-minded and be willing to experiment with various techniques and ideas and to be ready to change and improve my teaching. However, when I started teaching kids, I absolutely didn’t know how to do it. They only way of teaching I knew at that time was the way I was taught at my university. That’s why I started by teaching kids as I would teach adults. But very soon I realized that this method was not going to work. And the understanding that kids should be taught differently made me look for some solutions and methods which would be efficient in young learners classroom. Over the years of teaching kids, I have come to conclusion that there is no any super secret key to teaching kids; what is really needed is a teacher’s good rapport with them. I believe a teacher’s sincere, open-hearted attitude and genuine interest in kids and their little joys and regrets is the most important thing about teaching young learners.
SCET: You teach a large range of learners: from preschoolers to senior adults. In your experience, what age group and level is more challenging to teach and why? Which age group do you find it more difficult to prepare for?
AC: I wouldn’t be speaking here about the “difficulty” of teaching any age group or level. If you have a considerable experience in teaching various types of learners, you won’t find teaching them difficult. However, I would say that teaching kids or teenagers might be more challenging than teaching adults because it is much more time and energy consuming. But if one is ready for this and is really looking forward to socializing with these little restless and playful creatures, one will find teaching them truly rewarding, joyful and fun.
SCET: Tell us more about your CELTA experience. What did you enjoy the most about it, and what were the challenges? Would you recommend it to teachers who are just starting their career?
AC: My CELTA experience was one of the most exciting experiences ever. There was nothing I didn’t like about it. Quite the opposite: it was all joy and fun for me. Yes, we had to do lot of work, we had to do a lot of reading and writing. Yes, we were struggling to meet the deadlines and to be improving all the time, but all in all, we were enjoying the great company of other fellow-trainees, the fantastic tutors and the friendly and welcoming atmosphere. Besides all of this, the CELTA course gave me a lot in terms of reflecting on, analysing and summarizing my teaching experience. Also, CELTA helped me to identify my weaknesses and to start consciously working on them. I would definitely recommend CELTA to anyone who is considering taking it and especially to those who are only embarking on their teaching career.
SCET: Let’s move on to drama and storytelling and their inclusion in teaching English. Where do you see the benefit of these activities? Can all teachers use them, or does one need a special acting talent in order to teach in such a way?
AC: I believe that drama and storytelling have the great potential of bringing variety and fun into the lesson. That is why these techniques can be used in any learning environment and in any classroom: whether we are teaching kids or adults. The extent to which you can exploit drama and storytelling depends on how your particular learners react to them. Naturally, you won’t be using these activities with adults as much as you would with kids. But you never know! Your adult learners might enjoy these activities so much that they would ask you to do them more often. As for acting skills needed to do these activities, I don’t think that teachers have any problems with them because I strongly believe all teachers are excellent actors and can manage these activities easily! So all you need to succeed in doing drama and storytelling in your class is to enjoy them yourself!
SCET: Apart from any activity connected to teaching, what do you like doing in your free time?
AC: I’m really fond of astronomy. And though night-time sky observations don’t match very nicely with my day-time teaching, I would really love to devote more time to astronomy and astronomical observations. In the meantime, I try to keep track of the latest and the most interesting celestial events and to keep my Facebook friends informed (or maybe even pestered with J ) about some of them.
Alexandra Chistyakova is an EFL teacher at Moscow State University, Russia. She also works as a freelance tutor giving one-to-one English lessons to the range of learners, from preschoolers to senior adults. She received her CELTA at BKC-ih, Moscow, in 2011. Her professional interests include professional development, classroom management techniques, teaching English to young and very young learners, and integrating technology in the classroom. She strongly believes that teachers can greatly benefit from becoming active members of international ELT community through taking part in ELT conferences and webinars, and getting together with other educators to share their ideas and practices.
Workshop: LESSON SHELLS: TEACHING GRAMMAR TO KIDS CREATIVELY
YL/PRIM/LOWER S – GR – A1-A2
SATURDAY 11:15-12:15 in WASHINGTON
Presentation with Barbi Bujtas: BETTER TOGETHER: DEVELOPING, MAINTAINING & NURTURING A PERSONAL LEARNING NETWORK
CPD – FOR ALL TEACHERS
SATURDAY 9-9:30 in DUBLIN